The Sasol GTC Africa race day at Zwartkops Raceway on Friday, June 16, proved to be tough but rewarding for the Engen Xtreme Team, with defending champion Michael Stephen closing the gap on the championship lead.
Stephen powered his Engen Xtreme Audi 3 to second and first place respectively in the two races on offer to take overall honours in Round Four.
“The opening practices went well,” says Stephen. “In practice three we had trouble with the turbo and had to swap that out – with the team working until the early hours of race day to get the job done. Before qualifying there was no boost from the new unit, but miraculously it came online for the qualifying session. It wasn’t optimal but I was happy to be out there to post a time.”
From a fourth place start in Race One, Stephen moved past the Volkswagen Jetta and BMW of Mathew Hodges and Robert Wolk respectively to take second place – behind championship leader Gennaro Bonafede of Sasol GTC Racing.
Stephen started the second race just one place from the back due to the reverse grid and his second place finish in Race One. Despite a return of his turbo problems in the closing stages, he powered to victory.
“The gap Gennaro opened up in the first couple of laps meant I couldn’t catch him, but I was happy with the outcome of that first race,” says Stephen. “In Race Two, I had a good start and stayed out of trouble, made a few moves and hunted down Johan Fourie – the race leader. That took a few laps because he’s an old fox, but he drove a fair and hard race.”
Elsewhere, Stephen’s Engen Xtreme teammate, Simon Moss was able to complete three strong practice laps before his electronic dash gave problems. This was rapidly fixed by the team before Race One, but it meant he started in fifth place.
“In the opening race I got in behind Robert Wolk and just followed him. I made a mistake during the race and he got away from me, but I started catching him in the closing stages again and finished fifth,” says Moss.
“In race two it felt really good and I started pulling away from the field and had a good rhythm. When the red flag came out because Robert was stuck in the gravel, I was told to restart behind Johan Fourie – instead of in pole position.”
“After the restart, I was tucked in behind Johan, but ran wide during the race and with dirt on the tyres it changed the handling and I just couldn’t find that rhythm again. I got pushed out and dropped down the order again to finish fifth for the second time.”
The pair of fifth place finishes means Moss has conceded second place in the overall championship standings to Stephen. Bonafede leads the way with 325 points, with Stephen on 266 and Moss in third place on 231.
But with another five rounds of the 2017 Sasol GTC Africa to go, both Engen Xtreme Team drivers still have the championship well within their sights as they head to Aldo Scribante Raceway – their home track – for Round Five on Saturday, July 15.